Early last year, if someone told you that your diabetes health care — diabetes provider appointments, diabetes self-management education sessions, follow-up with office staff and more — would soon occur as telehealth visits, you might have been more than surprised. Fast forward to 2021, and we are in the midst of the unprecedented times of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on health care. The use of telehealth, which is the provision of care outside of the healthcare facility by means of technology, has become widely utilized. In fact, telehealth has grown at such an incredible rate in response to COVID-19 that it’s estimated that by the end of 2020, there were over 1 billion sessions between patients and their healthcare providers worldwide.
Why has telehealth grown as an alternative to in–person healthcare visits?
There are several main reasons for this trend.
Telehealth visits can be done on any smartphone, tablet or laptop that has internet capability.
These visits can be done virtually anywhere, anytime with the appropriate privacy considerations.
Telehealth visits can save time and money. Logging on for a visit instead of appearing in person limits the time you might need to take off work for a diabetes care appointment and provides cost savings on items such as gas, parking or bus fare.
This type of visit allows you to be seen by your diabetes care team members without worry of being in contact with others who might be ill.
Is telehealth a good alternative for a person with diabetes?
The answer is yes. If you have diabetes, telehealth can be a great option compared to an in–person visit with your diabetes care team. How good of an alternative is it? Research has shown that for people with diabetes who received their diabetes care via telehealth, their blood glucose control was as good as it was for those who received care through in-person visits with their diabetes care provider. In another study, which looked at people with diabetes who received diabetes self-management training/education (DSMT/E) from their diabetes care and education specialist via telehealth, patients experienced a decrease of 1.1% in their HbA1c (A1C; a measure of glucose control over the previous two to three months), along with an increase in their diabetes knowledge scores. In other words, not only did they see a decrease in their A1C, but the participants also developed a better understanding about their diabetes at the same time.
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Is telehealth appropriate for everyone who has diabetes?
Just as different medications are necessary to meet the varied needs of people with diabetes, different approaches to diabetes care are required to best meet everyone’s management needs. To help you decide whether telehealth is right for you, consider the following questions:
- Do you have a smartphone, tablet or computer that is able to connect you to your diabetes care team for a telehealth session? (Keep in mind that if the device is more than a few years old, the ability to connect with your diabetes care provider or education specialist for a telehealth session may be compromised.)
- Do you have the ability to access the internet? Does your internet connection allow you to see and hear during your diabetes care session without buffering or causing other interruptions in service during the visit?
- Do you have an internet or mobile plan with the necessary data and/or minutes for a telehealth session? Even a brief telehealth session (for example, less than 15 minutes) can use a large amount of data. If you are on a limited data plan and don’t have WiFi at home, a telehealth session might not be your best option.
- Do you have the time and a private location for the telehealth session? Although a virtual session is a convenient and practical platform for the visit, you must have a telehealth session where you can focus on the care and information provided. Trying to multitask during the visit — such as being in line at the drive-through of a fast food restaurant while connecting from your smartphone — will likely not be productive.
- Do you feel confident in using telehealth technology? It is important that you can clearly see and adequately hear your diabetes team member during the session. While telehealth technology is considered relatively simple to use in most cases, if you are not comfortable using this technology, consider calling your diabetes care team in advance to discuss how to best use it.
If you’re not able to answer “yes” to all these questions, with some minor adjustments, you may need to reconsider telehealth. If your answer to any is “no,” be sure to speak with your diabetes care team about instructions they may have for using their telehealth platform or for scheduling a telephone or in-office visit instead to make sure you receive optimal care. It is also important to note that telehealth appointments should not be used for any situations that are critical or require immediate attention.
I have scheduled my first telehealth diabetes session. What are the next steps to make it as successful as possible?
- Make a list and prioritize what you want to discuss at the visit. Remember, just like an in–person visit, a telehealth session is limited in time. Be sure to arrive for your session on time. If the allotted time does not allow you to discuss all your questions, be sure to schedule a follow-up session.
- Be sure to discuss any concerns, any unusual symptoms or a lack of understanding you have about a particular diabetes topic. The more information your diabetes care team has, the better they can help you.
- If visiting with your provider, have your blood glucose, blood pressure, weight logs and any other health records, along with their date and time, recorded for your provider to review at your session. If you use software to download glucose records from your sensor device or data from your insulin pump, it is ideal to send these records to your provider to review well before the visit. Any symptoms, such as skin discoloration, swelling or rashes, may be better discussed by taking a photo to send to your provider ahead of time. By having a picture to review before your visit, your provider may be able to better help you at your telehealth session.
- If you have any routine issues that need to be addressed, speak with office staff before or after your telehealth visit. Addressing these things separate from your session may give you more time with your diabetes care team to discuss the most important issues at hand.
- Ask how to go about getting any lab work (such as your A1C) that might be beneficial or necessary prior to your appointment.
Telehealth may be a convenient addition to your routine
While a face-to-face visit still might be the best choice for some people and for some health issues, telehealth is certainly a convenient, affordable alternative to an in–person visit for diabetes care. By ensuring you have acceptable technology to access your appointment and you are fully prepared with questions and information, you can increase the chances for a successful telehealth session for both you and your diabetes care team.
Want to learn more about telehealth? Read “2020 Health Trends: Try or Pass?”